Michael (left) and Anthony Spilotro

Agent recounts Spilotro murders tale
Michael (left) and Anthony Spilotro thought the mob was going to promote them, an FBI agent said. Instead, they were slain. A federal agent gave this account in federal court Friday, the first time the government has revealed what it believes happened nearly 20 years ago in one of Chicago's most notorious mob hits. (Tribune file photo / April 30, 2005)

The mob told Anthony Spilotro he was going to be promoted to a "capo," a street boss running a huge territory. His brother Michael was to become a "made" member, a trusted insider.

For the honors, the two were driven to a house near Bensenville--where mobsters jumped them, then beat and strangled them.

A federal agent gave this account in federal court Friday, the first time the government has revealed what it believes happened nearly 20 years ago in one of Chicago's most notorious mob hits.

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Authorities also revealed their source for the information--Nicholas W. Calabrese, a mob hit man-turned-informant who even implicated himself, confessing that he took part in 15 gangland murders, according to testimony Friday.

Calabrese's cooperation led to the indictment announced Monday of 14 reputed Outfit members and associates, half of them in connection with 18 long-unsolved mob murders.

In testimony Friday at a detention hearing for reputed top mob boss James Marcello, FBI Special Agent Michael Maseth said Calabrese had implicated Marcello in the 1986 Spilotro murders as well as the 1981 homicide of Nicholas D'Andrea and two bombings.

Despite James Marcello's offer to let law enforcement intercept his telephone calls if he was released from custody, U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel ordered him and his brother, Michael, held without bond.

Authorities also revealed that as part of the Operation Family Secrets probe, the FBI and IRS secretly recorded conversations of James Marcello while he was incarcerated in federal prison in Michigan and wiretapped the cell phone of Michael Marcello.

In one conversation in June 2003, authorities said the Marcello brothers discussed paying off Calabrese to keep quiet. Calabrese told authorities his wife was paid $4,000 a month after he complained to James Marcello about the lack of financial support, Maseth testified.

"That was the best investment," a transcript made public Friday quoted James Marcello as saying as he waved his arm. "Believe me."

But Michael Marcello appeared less certain. "I hope so. I hope it works out that way, buddy...," he is quoted as telling his brother. "But I just hope he don't turn around."

An insider's details

But Calabrese, whisked away to a federal prison in Ashland, Ky., had begun cooperating with the FBI a year and a half earlier, giving investigators an insider's details on mob murders that had gone unsolved for decades.

Maseth testified that Calabrese had agreed to cooperate after he had been confronted with evidence on some of the murders. Calabrese, who was also charged in Monday's indictment, has been promised only that his cooperation would be made known to the judge, the agent said. A plea agreement on those charges hasn't been completed, he said.

James Marcello's lawyer, Marc Martin, blasted the government indictment as being staked entirely on the word of an unreliable convicted felon who faced the death penalty if he didn't cooperate. Martin also emphasized that no physical evidence linked Marcello to the Spilotros' murders.

Calabrese's claim of involvement in 15 murders would make him one of the mob's most prolific known hit men. Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, the mob turncoat crucial to the conviction of New York crime boss John Gotti, claimed responsibility for 19 gangland murders.

Calabrese has told the FBI that in a 1983 ceremony, he was "made" a member of the Outfit with an all-star cast of reputed mobsters that included brother Frank Calabrese Sr., Marcello, Rocco Infelice, Albert Tocco and John Matassa Jr., who was later booted out as head of a Laborers Union local in Chicago.

The requirement for membership: "They have to kill someone," Maseth testified.

According to Calabrese's account to the FBI, the mob originally plotted to kill the Spilotro brothers in Las Vegas with explosives. Anthony Spilotro ran the Outfit's operations there and ran afoul of mob bosses.